Tuesday, June 22, 2010



The makers of TOY STORY 3 not only manage to bring the entire franchise around the corner with a boy who is too old for his toys but also to breathe even more fresh air into the series. By the third installment, a film in a series is usually so watered down and weak that it is a waste of time, but TOY STORY 3 handles its business as if all of the novel ideas that were percolating when the first movie was made never stopped bubbling over. The film doesn’t miss. There is no dragtime; there are no missteps. In a season full of nonstop cinematic blunders and outright moving picture failures, TOY STORY 3 stands above all and gives movie fans a reason to see a film in the theater rather than waiting for the DVD release.

The plot is simple enough. Andy is moving on to college, and he is cleaning out his room. The toys that made this ensemble piece series what it is are getting cut loose. Woody (Tom Hanks) is the only toy that makes it into the “college” box. The rest are all fair game for some form of separation anxiety. In short, the toys wind out in a day care, and on the surface, everything seems happy and loving. But beneath the utopian fa├žade, something really ugly is brewing.

TOY STORY 3 manages to slip in some serious adult concepts and cloak them well with enough humor, whimsy, and fantastic CGI to make the end product feel relatively light. There is even a moment of such angst in the face of a force not dissimilar to DANTE’S INFERNO that completely humanizes every one of these talking playthings. Underneath all of the fun and adventure are messages about commitment, self-sacrifice, generosity, and forgiveness.

What is that ugliness brewing under the surface at Sunnyside Day Care? It is complicated and heavy with spoilers. Just keep an eye out for any character that looks like it escaped from Sid’s workbench in the original TOY STORY. That is the only hint that you need.

The adventure that Woody and crew go on is a hilarious one. Sarge and his bag of green army men are still around, and Sarge is still voiced by R. Lee Ermey, the ultimate typecast drill sergeant in the actor’s guild. Mr. Potato Head (Don Rickles) steps up his game this time out and fully one-ups his “Look, I’m a Picasso!” move. The aliens from the claw machine are back and still relevant. So is Rex (Wallace Shawn), the dim-witted Tyrannosaur who has the personality of a much cuddlier creature. Even the Toyota truck from Pizza Planet makes a cameo.

The introduction of several new characters, including the Fisher-Price phone that we have all seen with its clown-cherub face named Chatter (Teddy Newton) are all welcome. Even Ken (Michael Keaton) of Barbie fame is a welcome meterosexual addition to the group.

What really holds this film together is the fact that Andy’s toys, from Buzz Lightyear (Tim Allen) to the Slinky Dog (Blake Clark), are an actual, working team. The previous two installations of TOY STORY have demonstrated this as well, and this current chapter in their plastic lives showcases it even further.

Can those geniuses at Pixar do no wrong? All of the Disney/Pixar films have been fantastic. Anytime I hear someone speak up about a Disney/Pixar film that they thought was weak (like CARS or FINDING NEMO) I can usually count at least five voices vehemently coming to the film’s defense. Pixar understands storytelling on the bigscreen. They also have a knack for delivering the kind of moral that would make grandma proud. With brash, rude CGI films like the SHREK or ICE AGE series out there making parents wince with their candid scatological buffoonery, it makes a film like TOY STORY 3 stand that much taller. Sight gags, pop culture references, and old-fashioned comic timing make TOY STORY 3 the kind of G-rated film that won’t have adults in the audience snoring, groaning, or looking at their cellphone clock.

Is there anything bad to be said about this film? There is a lame one-liner from Hamm (John Ratzenberger) that falls so flat that the audience might not catch it. However, that line is delivered after the credits are rolling at the end. Lee Unkrich who has put in co-directing time with Pixar/Disney in the past (TOY STORY 2, MONSTERS INC, FINDING NEMO) sure has earned the full director’s chair this time around. At a time when it is a complete chore to go to the multiplex and suffer through Hollywood’s most disappointing streak of mediocrity yet, TOY STORY 3 throws down and sets a standard. It presents a world of toys with consciousness as if this is the incontrovertible truth. It is the same standard that was set in TOY STORY 1. I just wish more movie-makers would strive for it.

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Wednesday, June 2, 2010



MICMACS, Jean Pierre Jeunet’s latest, brings all of his various traits of directorial quirkiness (witnessed in DELICATESSEN, CITY OF LOST CHILDREN, ALIEN RESURRECTION and AMELIE) into one film. MICMACS is an ensemble piece that is built around one of the most whimsical revenge stories I have ever witnessed. In the hands of almost any other director, this film would have wilted and crashed with such a stripped down, simple plot. But under the creative mastery of Jeunet, MICMACS is one of the most visually compelling and entertaining films out right now.

The film literally drops the viewer in the Sahara desert in its first frames where a man is killed by a land mine. The rest of the film belongs to that man’s son, Bazil (played as an adult by Dany Boon). Bazil is young when his father dies and is a problem at his local catholic school. He does manage to grow up, secure a job at a video store, and whittle away his long work hours mouthing the words of a French-dubbed Humphrey Bogart in THE BIG SLEEP back at a television screen. This existence is cut short by a stray bullet to the head. Bazil survives; however he is now slightly off socially and has a massive scar across his forehead. Consequently, he loses his life as he knew it. Now homeless and jobless, he has to start over.

Through a series of surreal coincidences, Bazil learns of both the company that made the landmine that killed his father and the company that made the bullet lodged in his skull. As MICMACS’ coincidence meter continues to fly off of the chart, it is revealed that both of these armories are across the street from each other. Furthermore, the CEOs of each company, DeFenoullet (Andre Dussollier) and Marconi (Nicolas Marie) hate each other.

Bazil meets and moves in with a group of creative misfits that live in a secret junkyard hideout and proceeds to plot his master plan of vengeance. Functioning much like a comic book team of superheros, Bazil enlists his new group of friends in his revenge plot, and they are just as quirky as the tenants in DELICATESSEN or the characters in CITY OF LOST CHILDREN. There is Fracasse the human cannonball (Dominique Pinon – a Jeunet regular). There is also a cute, skirted, bespectacled numerical fact spewer named “The Calculator” (Marie-Julie Braup). The Gepetto of the bunch is Petit Pierre (Michel Cremades) who makes toys and crude, cartoonish robots. The Contortionist (Julie Ferrier) likes to fold herself into refrigerators and boxes while flirting with Bazil. Remington (Omar Sy) is the resident writer with one too many flowery words to say. The group is rounded out by a matron and a patron: Placard (Jean Pierre Marielle) and Tambouille (Yolande Moreau). With bizarre yoga, strange measurements, and a constant reminder that all equipment that is ever used is recycled, this group of eccentrically superpowered vagabonds pulls MICMACS together to achieve a coherence that a lot of bona-fide comic book movies (like THE LOSERS) fail to achieve.

It is apparent that Bazil’s gang genuinely cares for each other. It is also apparent that if they are going up against arms manufacturers that there will be a heavy dose of explosions and bullets (showing that Jeunet’s lackluster ALIEN RESURRECTION time actually paid off). MICMACS doesn’t disappoint.

In traditional Jeunet style, the camera pans from crazy, unpredictable positions before landing to take in standard shots of scenery. Some of the most random concepts that dance across the screen are merely a part of the way the world of MICMACS works. Examples of this are the different barbaric ways rich people clean and consume prawns, Bazil’s recital of odd facts to stop his panic attacks (accompanied with animated SCHOOLHOUSE ROCK type cartoons), and Winston Churchill’s fingernail clippings. Some pretty solid CGI is used to accentuate various scenes, but it doesn’t overwhelm. MICMACS manages to convey a cluttered, surreal world without the busy visual detritus that Gilliam used to convey THE IMAGINARIUM OF DR. PARNASSUS. The feeling is similar, but Jeneut doesn’t rely on the fantastic quite as hard. MICMACS takes reality and bends it to that point just before the breaking. The world he presents is almost possible. MICMACS fits everything strange and normal together with an unnatural seamlessness that pushes the story along flawlessly.

MICMACS is a live wire of a film. It is French with English subtitles, so read fast or you will miss the onscreen magic. It never strays from its original revenge-based plot, and it explains all of its rapid-fire plot developments, occasionally rewinding the clock and representing scenes with the key missed details. It is entertaining, fun, and raw. This film is a hot-dogging showcase of Jean Pierre Jeunet at the top of his game.

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Tuesday, June 1, 2010



Finally, the long-awaited film from the minds of those silly kids at DERRICK’S COMEDY is up for mass consumption. The DERRICK’S COMEDY players, most notably Donald Glover, have been bending pop culture to their will of late. What started as a comedy troupe that pushed out a hefty, mesmerizing blitz of extremely to mildly funny YouTube videos went on to become the Internet hipster’s name-drop of choice, and caused a trending Twitter topic for the first black Spiderman (#donald4spiderman), has released a feature-length film, THE MYSTERY TEAM. This is what will most likely be remembered as the product that “made their mark.”

THE MYSTERY TEAM is a film about three high school seniors who want to still live their glory days as pint-sized detectives a-la THE LITTLE RASCALS. However, the R-rating on this film is a hard one. And while these guys are still living the glory days of solving cases like “sack-lunch fraud” and “two milks at lunch time,” the perverse world around them is closing in and forcing them to grow up.

The gag of a “forced maturing” runs through the entire MYSTERY TEAM film and is ground-zero for the bulk of the laughs. The film chooses at times to get dirty, and the dirtiness that is presented is so vile (such as the loss of a family heirloom in the vagina of a stripper) that the zaniness of the film is interrupted with hard, pornographic facts. Jason (Donald Glover), Duncan (DC Pierson), and Charlie (Dominic Dierkes) are also routinely verbally assaulted by Eric (Xavier Salazar), the ultimate foul-mouthed little kid.

What is a rather simple story is sidetracked and red-herringed so much that by the end of the film, all semblance of logic has been completely foiled. Jason, Duncan, and Charlie are hired for a dime by a little girl named Brianna (Daphne Ciccarelle) to find out who killed her parents. The mystery that Jason, Duncan, and Charlie soon find themselves completely consumed by runs deep and forces these arrested development case-studies to face reality and grow-up.

While working the viewer over with a haymaker of random witticisms such as the introduction and usage of hobo tips from a book called THE WANDERING TRAMP by S.A. Turkington and the use of catch phrases like, “Spill it, skillet,” the humor that should harness and bolster this film runs rather thin. Jason, the master of disguise, does wear ridiculous disguises and brutalizes accents, but such nonsense is only worth a smirk or two. Duncan, the boy genius, brings a host of silly facts to the table, but their demonstrated uselessness is ham-handed comedy at best. Charlie, the strongest kid in town, is a constant dolt-joke that never actualizes into anything. THE MYSTERY TEAM is some quirky fun, but it smacks of the type of cheap silliness that Sid and Marty Krofft presented on sugar-cereal soaked Saturday mornings back in the 70s.

The pacing of the humor in THE MYSTERY TEAM is much more like Chris Farley’s BEVERLY HILLS NINJA than something more frenetic like John Leguizamo’s PEST. Jokes about vomit, the consumption of dog urine, digging around in feces, and renting versus purchasing “eight balls of cocaine” are all grin-worthy, but THE MYSTERY TEAM lacks a specific scene that gives it comedy hall of fame rights, like the Baby Ruth in the pool from CADDYSHACK. Funny lines like, “Do you know what happens in jail? No TV.” are strong, but not strong enough. The mean-streak that this film flaunts is at times cringeworthy, such as when Leroy (Peter Saati) repeatedly tells his ditzy girlfriend Destiny (Kay Cannon) not to perform any fellatio while he is gone.

There is no question that THE MYSTERY TEAM is a comedy and built on the chassis of some great ideas. But it never completely finds its footing. It is a comedy in the sense that CORKY ROMANO or THE ANIMAL are comedies, but not in the sense of something great, like the aforementioned CADDYSHACK or even HAPPY GILMORE. THE MYSTERY TEAM is mostly a tedious diversion. Hopefully it is merely a placeholder before DERRICK’S COMEDY really delivers something worthwhile.

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